Both of my children love math. As a math education major momma, few things make me happier than this knowledge (an uninterrupted shower is a close competitor).
I got to thinking the other day – why do they enjoy math?
Math in our home has never been presented as a chore. It’s not endless pages of problems to be completed.
It is a puzzle. An intriguing puzzle to be investigated, and quite frankly – not always solved. It’s a real life application – a necessary tool to meeting a goal.
I have found that the key to successful math experiences is all in the attitude and the approach of the lessons.
As parents we learn to make everything seem like fun from racing to see who can clean up the toys first, or challenging our children to see how much they can buy at McDonalds if given $3.00. Attitude and approach sets the moods for our lessons.
One strategy I use often in our homeschool classroom is to use lots of hands on manipulatives. Manipulatives are simply hands on, physical materials that students use to explore mathematical content. They can be store bought (such as Geoboards, tangrams, or pattern blocks) or re-purposed household items (such as sugar cubes, deck of cards, or Legos) .
Here are my favorite tips for using manipulatives:
Explore – A day or two (or week) before you will use the manipulative in a lesson, place it out in your home for students to play with. We use the workbox method for centers at our house – each box has a different center to choose from during center time. The week that we will use a new manipulative (or one we haven’t seen in a while) I will put it in one of our workboxes for my kids to explore. No directions. This time not only allows children to develop their own imagination, but it also significantly cuts down on the number of times you will have to say “stop playing” when you get to the lesson that involves these manipulatives! Kids are curious – give them time to explore.
Investigate – The first time you use a new manipulative in a math lesson give your child time to draw their own conclusions. Ask questions. What can you do with the manipulative? What observations can you make? How could we use this to learn about math? These observations are great entries for a math journal – keep a log of what your student observes about various manipulatives. You can encourage and develop your child’s critical thinking skills by giving them time to investigate.
Engage – Students learn best when they are active participants in the learning process. Give guiding prompts. Can you show me to how to sort these figures? How could we figure out how many blocks we have if we have lots? Is there a faster way we could find the answer? When necessary, you can model an example of how to use the new manipulative for your goal/objective. Remember though, if your child is going to learn – they have to be the one engaged!
Record – One of the goals of using manipulatives in mathematics is to make the transition between concrete, hands-on tools to mathematical symbols and terms. One of the easiest ways to do this is to have your child solve a problem-solving challenge (any math problem that you give them). They can first use their manipulatives, and then record how they used their manipulatives on paper through words and/or pictures.
Manipulatives can be woven into just about any math lesson – maps to find distances during a measurement unit, grocery store ads to practice adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing decimals, Legos to learn about surface area and volume, two color counters to study positive and negative integers – the list goes on and on!
When Michele’s not turning toys into math investigations, she can be found blogging about her journey into preparing her children for the real world just in case they don’t become famous rock stars at http://rockstarthing.blogspot.com.
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